Thursday, April 23, 2015


For those who are not familiar, backchannels are discussion forums where students can interact with other students and the teacher while other things are going on in a class.  During a lecture, students could be in a discussion on Today's Meet and be asking and answering questions, giving the teacher feedback, expressing ideas or connections, etc.  It is another type of communication that can take place during a class.  As a channel for feedback, they are called backchannels.

I have had a lot of fun playing with Backchannels in both training and in the classroom.  What I have found is that backchannels fall into one of two categories, anonymous and not anonymous.

When I say anonymous, I mean that students can create a nickname or a pseudonym to join the chat.  It is possible that they could choose a name to be anonymous to the class if they are afraid that others will know who they are.  This is great because those who might not speak may have a voice in the backchannel.  This is problematic as those who say inappropriate things are also anonymous.  The programs like Today's Meet function like this and are great  for what they offer.

Discussions like those on Google classroom are not anonymous, meaning that the name is chosen based on the google login.  These are great because they hold students accountable for what they do, but do not allow anonymity for those who participate more due to the anonymous feature afforded by online tools.

What I would like to see is a program that recognizes the difference between a teacher and a student and allows teachers to see the identity of those in the discussion, but keeps students anonymous to other students.  So far, I have not found a free backchannel for this.

An alternative that works right now.  There are teachers in my district who have assigned students numbers.  These numbers are the pseudonyms for students.  While other students do not recognize the numbers and students can be anonymous to other students, increasing participation by "shy" students, teachers know the identity of students based on the number of the participant.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Student-Centered or Tech: What came first?

As part of a large school district, a trainer of teachers working with over 14,000 chromebooks, I have often asked this question.  I see teachers giving responsibility to students as I walk around the classes at the different schools.  Students are in charge of their learning and extending what the teachers give them to come with their own information.  There is a shift in focus from the "Sage on the Stage" to the content and how students can work with it and relate to it.  For those who let technology transform their class, which came first?  Where they teachers who lead student-centered classes or was the chromebook a conduit that allowed them to transfer some control of learning to the students?

I ask this question, because I have seen teachers transform their classes.  In order to transform their classes and create innovative learning experiences for students, teachers must shift their classes to student-centered learning environments.  What works best to support a transformative classroom?

As we select teachers for subsequent rollouts of chromebooks, do we look for teachers who conduct classes in a student-centered manner to create student centered lessons on chromebooks, or do we look for teacher-centered classrooms and given them chromebooks as a catalyst for changing classes to more interactive spaces.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Multiple Teachers and Draft Assignments in Google Classroom

I believe it was today that Google updated Classroom.  Here are the changes and some thoughts on them.

1. Multiple teachers for a classroom.  On the About page of an assignment, you can now add another teachers to a classroom.  This is a great feature for those who coteach a class, have a special education aid or a TA.  Coteachers have all the rights of a teacher, except they cannot delete the class.

Likes - I think it is great, nice to have the ability to coteach a classroom.

Dislikes - It would be nice to alter permissions of the coteacher, but I personally do not have a need for that.

2. Draft assignments ahead of time.  I like this feature, but I think it is one step away from being awesome.  This feature allows you create assignments, rethink and modify them prior to actually pushing them out to a class or multiple classes.  When you are ready, you can assign the assignment to your classes for students to see.  To do this, when done creating an assignment, instead of clicking assign, click the arrow next to assign and "Save as Draft."

Likes - I like that you can edit the assignment after created as a draft, change the classes who will get the assignment.  Push the assignment to the stream when ready.

Dislikes - The draft only shows up in the class where the assignment was initially created.  I wish that, when you choose to assign the assignment, you could push it to one course at a time.

Monday, April 20, 2015

The comment feature on Google Classroom

Most Teachers, when creating a class in Google Classroom, change the class setting to "Only teacher can post or comment."  I would say, off all the teachers I have trained and visited, this has been the setting so there is not a projector surprise awaiting as some student who posted something inappropriate waits for their wonderful words to display.  However, today I visited a class where the teacher continues to use this feature and claims it has helped her students, especially English Language Learners.

Ms. S, as I will call her, gives students lists of vocabulary words.  There are assignments associated with them, but students are required to comment on the assignment.  Students write a sentence with the vocabulary word in them.  She claims that this practice is easy to grade and that as students practice this more and more, they get better at the sentences.

Deep Thinking Questions:
Ms. S will put her notes on Classroom or will create assignments associated with a book chapter or other reading.  Students will comment on the assignment with a deep thinking question.  She can quickly view them, discuss the need for a deeper question and work with students on better word choices to express what they mean.  Students then are required to address two of those questions for homework.

Discussion Participation:
Students are often asked to participate in class discussions.  The comment section of Google classroom is a place where students can add to the conversation even when they do not have the confidence to speak up during a conversation.

Management of the Comments:  All comment sections are associated with points, students who act up or type inappropriate comments are given zeros on the assignment and parents are emailed.  As of yet, I have only heard that Ms. S had to perform this once, and that may have been a setup.

Obviously not a complete list, but a great place to start.  How are you using the comment section?

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Amazing Classroom Ideas from 2 days of walk-throughs

Although I work with schools and train teachers for 2 whole days of PD (1 prior to getting chromebooks and the other after 1 month of working with them), I find that I learn more from the teachers when I see them in action with their students.  I learned through my years of teaching and writing that what we say and what we write is interpreted in many different ways due to the prior knowledge and experience of the audience as well as the current situation of those listening/reading.  For this reason, after I train teachers in the use of a tool it is nice to see how they manipulate the functionality of that tool to come up with amazing lessons and engaging content that I would or could ever have created or thought of myself.  I see these ideas on walk-throughs, like the one I did today.

1. Kahoot and whiteboards in combination - A teacher used the Kahoot game to gather evidence of her whole class and how they were understanding problems in her AP Chemistry class.  After answering a question on the Kahoot, the teacher would then give them time to write out their explanation or an answer to a subquestion developed by the teacher when she saw the confusions students had with the question.  Kahoot was truly a formative assessment tool that allowed the teacher to assess students, then restructure teaching immediately.

2. Participation during presentation - Many teachers have students do presentations, but what do the students do as they listen to the presentations.  A teacher gave an assignment where the students needed to record information about the presentation in a table nested in a google doc.  Students then were required to use the research tool to gather an additional piece of information.  As this was delivered through google classroom, not only could the teacher coach students on presentation skills, but he also checked in on students during the presentations.

3. Socratic Seminars - A teacher in an high school Sophomore English class had students arranged in an inner and outer circle in her room.  Students in the inner circle were arguing as part of a Socratic seminar while the students in the outer ring added to the notes on the book the inner circle students were discussing.  The teacher mentioned that she was interested in having students share a google doc and have outer circle students feed answers and evidence to the inner circle students through the google doc.

4. Annotated bibliographies for research papers - a Junior English class was annotating bibliographies on American figures from the past.  The teacher collaborated with the US history teacher to make sure the project supported what students were learning in both classes.  The teacher had the students annotating and evaluating sources in google docs to later use in their research project.